As the booze-soaked, hooker-laden and kick-back fueled debacle known as the “Fat Leonard” scandal continues to ensnare scores of current and former Navy officers, a little-known military justice provision means the Navy could target culpable retirees for a court-martial or other disciplinary measures.
While most sailors believe themselves to be free of military stricture after retirement, retirees who fulfilled an active-duty career remain subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and can be charged under that system long after they have stopped putting on the uniform.
“Retired pay is not a pension, it is retired pay,” said Zack Spilman, a former Marine Corps judge advocate now in private practice. “It is reduced compensation for reduced current service.”
Most sailors do not realize that they are not free of the military after their 20 years, Spilman said.
“Military retirement is not retirement in the ordinary sense of the word,” he said. “Military retirement is just a change in status.”
The scope and reach of the Fat Leonard scandal ballooned beyond previous estimates this month when the Navy confirmed it is still investigating about 190 current and retired Navy personnel, mostly officers, to determine what role they may have played in the scandal and whether disciplinary measures are warranted.
The scandal centers around a 350-pound Malaysian businessman named Leonard Glenn Francis — widely known among Navy officers as “Fat Leonard” — and his Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia company, which provided resupply services to Navy ships in Asia.
Francis pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court in 2015 to bribing scores of Navy officers in the 7th Fleet’s West Pacific with millions in cash, gifts, prostitutes and other perks as a means to get inside information on Navy ship movements that he used to charge exorbitant amounts to resupply vessels when in port.
The Justice Department originally gave the Navy a list that contained 440 names of current and former Navy personnel who hadn’t done anything to warrant prosecution under civilian law. Still, their names were turned over to the Navy for another look as to whether they had committed offenses under either the Uniform Code of Military Justice or any standing orders or directives, such as ethics rules, according to Navy officials.
As of early November, Navy officials said the list of names was whittled down to 190 who remain under investigation. To date, five have been charged with offenses under the UCMJ and all are waiting to find out when the Navy will take them to court martial. Most likely, officials say, that won’t occur until sometime next year.
Some of those who remain under investigation are retired officers. Court-martialing a retiree is rare, and largely limited to serious crimes, but it remains an option for disciplining retired officers who were involved with Francis’s corruption scheme.
While the federal government has charged the severest cases in civilian court, including 21 current or former Navy officials, lesser misdeeds will likely fall to the military justice system, raising the potential for a court-martial.
Grover Baxley, a former Air Force attorney now in private practice, questioned whether court-martialing Navy retirees for Fat Leonard-related crimes would be worth the time-consuming process.
With the worst cases being tried by the feds, lower-level violations by retirees may be more likely to result in a punitive letter of reprimand that would sully their personnel record as they try to make a private-sector career, Baxley said.
They could also face a reduction in rank that would slash their retired pay, he said.
Retirees are not often court-martialed because most UCMJ retiree infractions can either be handled under civilian law or are not worth the military’s time, according to Spilman.
“Anecdotally, the first thing people do after they retire…is they go get stoned,” Spilman said. “They’re thinking, now I can smoke weed. Well, no. It’s just as prohibited for you to smoke marijuana after you retire as before you retire. The only difference is people care more about it before you retire.”
The Navy and Marine Corps have charged an estimated six retirees under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, while the Air Force reports two such cases. The Army did not respond to a Navy Times request for similar statistics.
While rare, this provision was used this summer when the Army charged a retired two-star general on sex assault allegations dating back decades.
At 68, retired Maj. Gen. James Grazioplene faces charges that he repeatedly raped and molested his victim over a period of years ending in 1989.
Grazioplene faces dismissal from the service, pay forfeiture and life in prison, according to the Army.
In another case of a retiree who was brought back from retirement, retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. Derek Dinger had been out for about 10 years when he was busted by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service in 2014 for downloading and sharing child pornography while working as a contractor in Okinawa, according to federal court records.
A federal civilian grand jury indicted him in 2015 and he was brought back to the United States, where federal prosecutors realized for the first time that he was retired military and subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
He was later found guilty at a court-martial.
Former Army Master Sgt. Timothy Hennis was brought out of retirement to be court-martialed in 2010 for the slaying of a mother and her two young children in 1985.
Hennis received a death sentence in a military court, a sentence that was upheld last year.
Eugene R. Fidell, an attorney who specializes in military law, recalled the case of a retiree working at the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia who was facing theft charges and faced the prospect of being tried in the Saudi court system, but was instead court-martialed by the U.S. military.
“The alternative was having your hand cut off by the Saudis,” Fidell recalled. “He was pleased as punch to be prosecuted by Uncle Sam.”
Selden Hooper was a retired admiral who was court-martialed in the 1950s after he was caught cruising for gay sex.
“That made the Navy very cross with him, and they prosecuted him,” Fidell said.
The Supreme Court affirmed in 1987 that the alleged crime of a service member does not have to be service-connected to be prosecuted under the UCMJ.
Fidell questioned the law allowing retired military members to be court-martialed, and said it is too often used as a backstop for failings in the civilian justice system.
Hennis was tried twice in civilian court, and ultimately acquitted. He reentered the Army after his acquittal and retired as a master sergeant in 2004.
A few years later, advances in DNA evidence testing led the military to court-martial Hennis.
“The military justice system is not supposed to be this sort of catch-all,” Fidell said. “In my opinion, it’s a misuse of the military justice system.”
But military retirees can be called back up to active status, Spilman noted, so it stands to reason that retirees would still be subject to military justice.
“Part of why you’re getting retired pay is to be available to be recalled,” he said. “Since that’s part of the deal, then yes, you’ve got to be subject to a measure of military discipline.”
News of the Fat Leonard scandal’s growing reach was first reported by the Washington Post in a November story that cited individuals who said former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert attended several dinners with Francis after meeting him in the late 1990s.
Francis and Greenert’s interactions continued after Greenert received his third star and took command of 7th Fleet, with the Post reporting that Greenert mailed him a holiday card in 2005.
Francis also attended the change-of-command ceremony in 2011 when Greenert became the chief of naval operations, according to the Post, a time when Francis’ activities were being scrutinized.
Navy officials would not say if Greenert was one of the 60 admirals being investigated, according to the Post. Most of those names have not been made public.
Greenert told the Post he had not been contacted by investigators and did not know how Francis came to be at the ceremony.
Geoff is the editor of Navy Times, but he still loves writing stories. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.